News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Over the Side With Old Scientific Tenets

Elwood H. Smith for the New York Times

Here are some concepts you might consider tossing out with the Christmas wrappings as you get started on the new year: human nature, cause and effect, the theory of everything, free will and evidence-based medicine.

What scientific idea is ready for retirement?

Those are only a few of the shibboleths, pillars of modern thought or delusions — take your choice — that appear in a new compendium of essays by 166 (and counting) deep thinkers, scientists, writers, blowhards (again, take your choice) as answers to the question: What scientific idea is ready for retirement?

The discussion is posted at edge.org. Take a look. No matter who you are, you are bound to find something that will drive you crazy.

Continue reading »

A lesser-known dementia that steals personality

By Erika Hayasaki | The Atlantic | January 9, 2014

While Alzheimer’s usually affects older people, and is detected as a person begins to lose memory, frontotemporal dementia causes people to lose their personalities first, and usually hits in the prime of their lives — the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Over the last decade, new research in patients with frontotemporal dementia and other illnesses, has helped neuroscientists understand more about the roles different parts of the brain play in where our personalities come from.

A study released in October by Dr. Brad Dickerson, [Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett,] and colleagues at Harvard Medical School in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry pinpointed regions in the brain that showed atrophy from frontotemporal dementia and found that those with the most damage to the “perception network” (amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, superior temporal, and fusiform cortex) also showed the most prominent difficulty responding to social cues, facial expressions, and eye gaze, and had the most trouble interpreting gestures and body language—the kind of cues that sarcasm relies on.

Read the full article at The Atlantic Monthly.

In the Human Brain, Size Really Isn’t Everything

Scientists have long suspected that our big brain and powerful mind are intimately connected. Starting about three million years ago, fossils of our ancient relatives record a huge increase in brain size. Once that cranial growth was underway, our forerunners started leaving behind signs of increasingly sophisticated minds, like stone tools and cave paintings.

Viktor Koen for the NYTimes

But scientists have long struggled to understand how a simple increase in size could lead to the evolution of those faculties. Now, two Harvard neuroscientists, Randy L. Buckner and Fenna M. Krienen, have offered a powerful yet simple explanation.

Continue reading »

Scammers take aim at aging population

Elder financial abuse
Researchers analyzed media reports from April through June 2010, and pinpointed 314 unduplicated reports of elder financial abuse that included detailed information. Source Metlife Study on Elder Financial Abuse. Credit: James Abundis, Boston Globe.

By Kay Lazar | The Boston Globe | January 6, 2014

Roughly 21,000 times last year, physicians, social workers, family members, and other concerned residents contacted Massachusetts Protective Services authorities to report suspicions that an elderly person was being abused.

In about one third of those cases, the concern involved financial exploitation, according to state officials, a problem that is expected to grow significantly as the population ages and the number of older adults left vulnerable by Alzheimer’s disease nationwide is projected to double, and perhaps triple, by 2050.

With a potential tsunami of elder financial abuse on the horizon, researchers, health care leaders, lawyers, and lawmakers have launched a number of initiatives to better understand the size and scope of the issue and craft strategies to minimize harm. Continue reading »

A Child Who Kills Is Still A Child

By Simon Waxman | Cognoscenti | 2 January 2014

I couldn’t say for sure when I first learned I was an adult, but there’s a good chance it was June 6, 1998. On that day, I had my bar mitzvah. All I had to do was recite a small portion of Torah. Though I would continue for a while the youthful activities that had until then occupied my time — homework, obsessive cataloging of baseball cards, assiduous avoidance of girls (no longer icky, but still terrifying) — I had earned adult status.

The status, I later discovered, was a fiction, but without consequences. For some people, though, the consequences of fictitious adulthood can be significant.

If there are good reasons to treat adult and youth offenders differently, why are those reasons discarded according to the severity of the crime?

One such person is Philip Chism. His name provokes no sympathy, nor should it. But it should provoke a degree of puzzlement.

In October, Chism, who is 14, allegedly murdered his Danvers High School teacher, Colleen Ritzer. When, according to the indictment against him, he stabbed her to death, he became, in the eyes of the law, an adult. Yet when he also allegedly robbed and raped her, crimes that appear to have occurred in the same school bathroom, during same 12-minute span, he was a child. Today, he stands accused as an adult murderer and as a juvenile thief and rapist.

Read the full article here.